“Opportunity waits behind the door numbered 213 on Binghamton’s State Street.” — Sharon Eurich, staff writer, Press & SunBulletin (Neighbors column: Jan. 1, 2000)
Ten years ago there was no monthly First Friday to perk up the life of downtown Binghamton. Gorgeous Washington Street was more of an idea than a reality, a street on which stood the city’s lone art gallery. State Street, between Lewis and Henry, was a forbidding block of empty warehouses and derelict buildings, not the area it is today with new sidewalks, new street lamps, planters, benches, loft apartments and eight galleries that exhibit the work of national, international and regional artists. This month the first of those eight galleries is celebrating its 10th anniversary with an exhibit featuring the work of past and present members. “The 10th Anniversary: Celebrating Our Individuality” opened Jan. 1 on First Friday and continues every weekend through January at the Cooperative Gallery 213, 213 State St.
Ten years ago, four women gathered to discuss the possibility of opening an art gallery in the empty first floor of a building on that uninviting State Street block, a building owned by one of the women. Those gathered were to become the founding members of the Cooperative Gallery 213 on State Street. Calls were made, flyers posted and, two Saturdays before Christmas, an exhibition titled “Sneak Preview” opened. The response was positive, and an informational meeting was scheduled mid-January inviting anyone interested in joining Binghamton’s first gallery to be run and operated by its exhibiting artist members.
At that time, Margaret Johnston, one of the original organizers, stated: “The gallery puts a downtown building to good use and infuses life into downtown while giving artists more opportunity to show their work.” That statement is underlined by the crowds that continue to frequent First Fridays and by the fact that the once-shabby State Street block has been renamed “Artist Row: State of the Art.”
The gallery with its multiple layers of membership — solo, shared and supporting — continues as an all-volunteer organization, supported by dues, sales and donations. It has no paid employees and is maintained and operated by its members who function as artists, curators, sales personnel, office staff, caterers, fund-raisers and window washers to name some of their varied roles.
The gallery has been fortunate through its first decade to attract some of our community’s finest artists, both as members and invited guests. From the opening of the first solo exhibition on Jan. 21, 2000, of Judith Salton’s “Different Worlds“ through Ada Stallman’s and Shirley Ernst’s “Recent Watercolors and Collages” exhibition, which ran Nov. 6-28 of this past year, the quality of the artwork and the dedication of it’s creators and curators has made the Cooperative Gallery the vital and dynamic institution that it is.
Exhibiting-level memberships present the opportunity to be the featured artist/artists on a rotating basis. The month-long exhibitions showcase the varied media of choice with artist’s talks, critiques, demonstrations and readings on “Third Thursdays” and throughout the exhibition. On a number of occasions over the years, members have opened up their exhibition time to create invitational shows offering gallery space to non-member guests as well as additional exhibition opportunities to supporting members.
“Figuratively Speaking: an exhibition of the human form” brought together the work of more than 50 artists: some who had never exhibited their work before and some with international reputations. “The Arts of Africa: An Exhibition from the Pearl Primus Collection” showcased African masks, textiles and ceremonial robes. “re-GROUP” was an invitational exhibition by nine recent graduates of Binghamton University’s Fine Arts Program. The “Self-Portrait Show” and “Cooperative Collaboration” gave us a chance to enjoy working together and enabled us to laugh at and with each other. The “911” and “Homeless” exhibitions gave both artists and visitors the opportunity to express their silent screams of anger, sorrow, frustration and fear while allowing time for consideration, reflection and hope.
The Binghamton University Bachelor of Fine Arts Program held “The Human Condition: figure as a vehicle for ideas” exhibition and party at the Cooperative Gallery. “Do you see what I hear?” an artist’s effort to define her interaction with the world as a synesthete brought the gallery to the attention of an Australian film studio working on a series for the Discovery Health Channel.
A number of members have taught or continue to teach at Binghamton University and Broome Community College and in local high schools. The gallery sponsored juried exhibition for our region’s high schools, thus introducing the community to some amazing young artists. The month of December has been set aside each year for the “All Member Holiday Show,” which features the work of all current Cooperative Gallery members.
These and other group shows sprinkled through the years, along with the featured individual exhibitions, underline the artistic vision, facility and practice of the members, past and present.This January the Binghamton community, which has welcomed and witnessed the growth of the arts and the revitalization this growth has encouraged, is invited to celebrate with gallery members at the first exhibit of the next decade.Visit the gallery from 3 to 6 p.m. Fridays and from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Written by MaryRose Griffin, one of the founding members